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#1123 - French Onion Soup
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February 26, 2013 #1123 French Onion Soup
When I was a kid, I saw a movie called Irma La Douce, a romantic comedy set in turn of the century Paris. One early scene depicted hordes of formally attired folks sitting around the tables of a greasy spoon cafe sipping hot bowls of French Onion Soup in the early morning. At the age of 14, I couldn't figure it out the allure, but now I know.
The first restaurants opened in Paris in the 1700's and took their name from the French verb, restorer, meaning to restore. These simple establishments sat people at tables and served them soup, a "restorative" to buck them up. We have little problem believing that onion soup was the featured dish that won over the weary hearts of those Parisians, and established a world wide institution.
There are four simple components in the soup: the cooked onions, the broth, the crouton and the cheese. Of the four, the cooking of the onions is the critical step.
We recommend sweet yellow onions for this recipe. And you'll want a heap of them, at least one large onion per bowl. To prepare, peel them, cut them in half top to bottom, then slice again lengthwise into long thin slices. You're going to slow cook the onions plus thyme sprigs and bay leaves in melted butter, which means you will keep the heat low. You can use a large, deep skillet or a dutch oven, but keep stirring it up. Covering the pot helps. Invest up to 45 minutes for this step.
Next, you will toss the cooked onions with flour, and add a little white wine. Cook for a few more minutes then add your broth. Beef broth is the traditional choice here, but chicken or vegetable broth is OK. What you want, in any case, is fairly concentrated, flavorful broth, so don't use anything watered down. Give the soup another 45 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.
As for the croutons, try cutting a baguette into slices, and toasting both sides in a warm oven. You can sprinkle a little seasoned salt on them for fun. For cheese, the standard choice is gruyere, although parmesan can work really well.
To serve, ladle out the soup into oven proof bowls (or big, old coffee mugs), taking care to fish out the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Float enough of the croutons to cover the top, and lay a few strips of cheese on them. Then sprinkle a heap of the grated cheese on top, and slip the bowls under the broiler for about a minute or two...no more! The cheese will melt quickly. Julia Child suggested garnishing with a pinch of finely grated onion on the top, and to us, that makes sense.